Colic surgery has been successfully performed on Dante, a two-year old zebra, at the Washington National Zoological Park in the US.

Dante had been visibly uncomfortable and lying down for uncharacteristically long periods of time, demonstration that there was a serious colic problem.

“When one of these animals is sick, it is pretty challenging because, as prey animals, they tend to hide pain,” said Carlos Sanchez, associate vet at the zoo.

It was a routine operation for vet Jennifer Brown, who is the clinical assistant professor in emergency care and equine surgery at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Centre, but unlike domestic horses, zebras are unapproachable without anaesthetic and dangerous to handle. They are also harder to anaesthetise. Once on the operating table the process is similar to that used on a horse.

“Once his stripes were covered up, I couldn’t tell the difference between him and a horse — they have almost the same gastrointestinal tract, although colic is fairly uncommon among zebras,” she said.

Dante was returned to the zoo 10 days after surgery to continue his successful recuperation.